Urban Meyer has made a habit of reminding everyone more than one issue has caused his high-powered Ohio State offense to break down in the red zone and in short-yardage situations this season.
He’s right, of course, and a few potential solutions have surfaced through interviews with the head coach of the Buckeyes and offensive coordinator Ryan Day over the past two weeks.
Here are five:
1. Throw and catch better.
Ohio State failed to score a touchdown on all four of its trips to the red zone (five if counting the final possession of the game on which the clock ran out) during the Buckeyes’ 49-20 loss at Purdue on Oct. 20.
Two of those possessions likely would have ended in touchdowns if not for off-target throws from Dwayne Haskins into the end zone.
“We’ve got to execute,” Day said. “We missed a couple passes that we’ve hit.”
One was a contested ball that still could have been caught, but drops have also plagued the Buckeyes in other tight spots this season, including a deflected interception at Penn State and a handful that exacerbated a slow start against TCU.
2. Block better.
After noting the throws Haskins missed at Purdue, Day added, “But also we need to be able to pound and make three yards down there” close to the goal line.
This is also true on third- and fourth-and-short.
Ohio State’s running game has been a disappointment this season for a variety of reasons, but failing to move opposing defensive players out of the way consistently is at the top.
All five starters were four-star recruits, so physical ability shouldn’t be a problem. Sophomore left tackle Thayer Munford, who’s been solid all season, is the only starter younger than a junior, so youth isn’t an issue, either.
Executing assignments would go a long way toward making the whole operation run more smoothly.
3. Run better.
Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins both have 1,000-yard seasons under their belts.
Neither running back has found much success over the past few weeks as teams load the box.
The offensive line has struggled, but the backs have also had a hard time getting in sync with their blockers, missed some open holes and rarely made the extra man in the box miss when he is there.
“Schematically we've adapted some things, but, it's a matter of two things in my mind,” Meyer said. “First of all, getting the players in the right position. Number two, being more physical and breaking tackles.”
4. Try different personnel.
The move of Michael Jordan to center in August after two years as a starting guard came somewhat as a surprise.
Most chalked it up as an effort to get the team’s best five linemen on the field, but Meyer confirmed just this week for the first time it was necessitated by an injury to senior Brady Taylor, who was in line to start when spring practice ended.
Taylor and Branden Bowen, a starter at guard in the first half of last season before he suffered a broken leg, have returned to practice but might not be ready for game action yet.
“They're both getting pretty close,” Meyer said Monday. “They should be practicing today against scouts. Not quite full speed, but getting closer.”
5. Try different personnel packages.
No matter who forms the starting five on the offensive line, they might benefit from some help, be that with an extra offensive lineman or more two-tight end sets (Ohio State has dabbled with the latter with mixed success already this season).
The Buckeyes could also try something more radical such as a wildcat package with a running back taking a direct snap or a red zone/short-yardage package for backup quarterback Tate Martell, who is a better runner than Haskins and a better passer than any of the running backs.
“We’re looking at all those things,” Day said. "It’s a good point. (With an extra blocker) you get a bigger surface over there and maybe the extra (defensive player) comes in from farther away. Running Dwayne down there really isn’t the option it used to be with J.T. (Barrett), so again really uncovering everything whether it is the quarterback run, putting Tate in the game, wildcat packages, different personnels, all those things we are evaluating right now.”
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